These days, there are many reasons people are opting for dairy milk alternatives. From lactose intolerance to veganism, there’s no right or wrong reason to make the switch. However, in doing so, there are some factors to consider when choosing your alternative. Whether its taste and texture you’re after, or a product that’s nutritionally comparative, we’re here to help you hone in on what variety is best for you and your lifestyle.
Many people are making the switch from cow’s milk due to a lactose intolerance (difficulty digesting dairy) or a dairy allergy (when you’re allergic to the proteins in milk). However, there’s a reason that dairy has been a staple of the nutrition pyramid we were raised on. Milk provides a solid source of protein (7-8 grams per serving), as well as important minerals (calcium) and vitamins (vitamin D). For most, then, it will be important to consider what you’re replacing these with in your diet when you remove dairy from your daily diet.
Soy: Soy was the first alternative milk on the scene, and it contains a similar amount of protein as cow’s milk. Actually, overall, it’s nutritionally the most similar to dairy. It’s fairly bland, unless sweetened or flavored, and while it has a creamy texture, some palates would call it chalky. Of course, if you have a soy allergy, then this option is a no-go.
Almond: Almond milk is lauded for its low calorie count, but the trade-off is that it’s low in protein too. Like most nut milks, there’s a lot of water involved in production, resulting in a final product that’s...well, thin and almost watery. But not all nut milks are created equal, and this one has a very mild taste. Again, here, if you have a nut allergy this won’t be the one for you!
Pea: Milks made from pea protein are unfamiliar to many, but we encourage you to not fear the unknown in this circumstance! This milk holds on to those protein numbers, while being free of nut or soy allergens. Its taste is mild, while its pleasant texture makes it highly versatile in how it’s used.
Coconut: The pros and cons of this milk are intrinsically connected. Because while coconut milk has a pleasant, slightly sweet taste, it is known to be high in calories and saturated fat. There are two varieties as well--the thick, from-the-can coconut milk, or the watered down milk in a carton that’s more authentically described as a coconut-based milk.
Oat: Oat milk is praised for its mellow taste, with subtle sweetness. While it is slightly lower on protein (compared to dairy), it boasts fiber that the other milks can’t compete with. With its creamy consistency, oat milk is a great alternative for those with soy and nut allergies.
Hemp: Boasting a creaminess and thickness that the other milks are hard-pressed to beat, hemp milk does lag in protein. However, it makes up for it with heart and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Rice: Rice milk will tantalize your taste buds because of its natural sweetness, but don’t be fooled because this milk is quite low in protein. On the other hand, rice milk is high in carbs, and people shy away from it for fear of arsenic. The recommendation then is to consume in moderation.
Flax: Nutty-tasting and similar in nutrition to nut milks, flax is creamier than most nut milks. Look for a version that has been enriched with protein to supplement its low protein values.
Cashew: While still thin in consistency (because it’s a nut milk), comparatively among nut milks, the popular opinion is that cashew milk is richer in taste and creamier in texture. If you’re looking for a kitchen challenge, try making this one at home!
Hazelnut: Nutella enthusiasts will feel an immediate allegiance with this milk. The biggest critics of alternative milks will even admit that this variety has a rich, almost warm, flavor. Unfortunately, it can be hard to track down in your average grocery store.
So when you’re looking down a long aisle of milk options, consider your personal nutritional needs, and your overall goal in avoiding dairy. Once you’ve selected a type, look for a brand that doesn’t add a ton of sugars and sweeteners. Actually, it’s best to check the labels to select the milk with the fewest ingredients. Some of these varieties are packed with emulsifiers and thickening agents. Finally, if there’s an option, choose a milk that has been fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. While removing dairy from your diet, these are the benefits of dairy that you’ll want to hang on to.